The Panthers’ preseason got off to a great start last night and the end result was a collective team win against a Houston Texans team that won their division a season ago and will likely be a contender for that crown again. To quote Greg Olsen post game, this team isn’t a “finished product” yet, but overall, there was a lot to like.
Let’s take a look to see who improved their stock last night and who didn’t:
First team defense — It’s no secret that this defense is packed with talent. They had talent last year too, but there was a ton of young talent (especially in the secondary) and they got exposed at times. Last night though, they looked like the top 3 defense that we’ve been used to watching the past couple of years. In total the 1st unit was on the field for six plays and the Texans gained a total of negative three yards. Yes, you read that correctly. Don’t overlook the fact that Charles Johnson and Julius Peppers didn’t even play. Shout out to KK Short for a sack and a QB hit in four pass rushes.
Kelvin Benjamin — KB is obviously a roster lock and is the definitive #1 wideout on the depth chart, but he’s taken a lot of heat this summer for showing up to OTA’s overweight. Well, KB came to the game last night looking svelte and his play was oh so similar to the rookie KB pre acl tear. He had two catches for 40 yards. One was an impressive 23 yard touchdown and the other was a 5 yard curl route that he turned into 17 yards while bowling over DB’s.
Damiere Byrd — Easliy last night’s MVP. Hauled in four catches for 98 yards and two scores. With KB, Funchess, Shepard and Samuel as locks for the 53, someone needed to provide separation from the group for the 5th WR spot. Byrd strengthened his case last night. It helps that there is a current void of a receiver that can take the top off a defense like Ted Ginn has done the past two seasons.
David Mayo — Mayo did what Mayo does well. He flew around the field and was around the ball. He forced a fumble that Jared Norris got credit for in the second quarter.
Daeshon Hall — Didn’t stuff the stat sheet, but drew a couple of holding calls and tripped up Deshaun Watson for a sack in the third quarter.
O-Line — Matt Kalil had a nice cameo and Silatolu and Taylor Moton were solid in relief playing unfamiliar positions.
Safety Depth — Specifically Dezmen Southward and LJ McCray. Both guys flew around and brought the wood on some tackles. Southward was on the spot to recover the Mayo/Norris forced fumble in the 2nd.
Teddy Williams — Hasn’t gotten a ton of camp pub, but he made several nice coverage plays last night.
Harrison Butker — His only field goal attempt was a 51 yarder late in the game and he drilled it.
Second Team Defense — For as good as the starters looked, the backups were just as disappointing. Even with Shaq and Captain out there, they allowed the first team Houston offense to march down the field for a score while overcoming three penalties in the process.
Colin Jones — Safety is such a thin position on this roster. A couple of the reserves had good nights, but for Jones, having been on this roster for a few seasons I wanted to see more production in his coverage. We know he’s great on special teams, but the coverage as a safety was lacking a bit last night.
Zack Sanchez — Didn’t give up a big play, but didn’t stand out or shut down his side of the field either.
Graham Gano — Gano, by all accounts, has been winning the kicking competition this camp, but missing the 50 yarder off the upright early in the game wasn’t a good look.
Christian McCaffrey — Got just a glimpse of what he can do last night. Didn’t explode or anything, but got seven carries for 33 yards and did a nice job of moving between the tackles and getting out on the edge.
Brenton Bersin and Vernon Butler — Both got banged up during the second quarter. Butler’s injury in particular was more concerning as he got blindsided with a crack back block on a play he wasn’t really involved in. After the hit, Butler was holding his knee which he likely tweaked after contact and landing on the ground. From the looks of it, it didn’t look to be a tear, but a sprain would hold him out for a couple of weeks which is unfortunate.
Certainly there was way more good than bad last night and I imagine the coaches will be please for the most part. Next up is their game against the Titans on Saturday the 19th.